The trouble with birchbark canoes, at least from a conservation perspective, is that they were originally built as disposable transportation devices — you could always build another one. And if you’re a critter from the forest floor, they’re good to eat. That’s why the first step the restoration team at what is now the Museum of History took in their work on the “Grandfather” canoe in 2007 was to freeze it to kill any mould or parasites that might be lingering in its cracks and crevices. From there, they worked methodically to clean the many surfaces of the boat, occasionally injecting ethanol with polyvinyl butyral into holes and rotted areas to clean and stabilize the wood. The canoe was then taken apart to repair broken pieces — cracked bark, for instance, was fixed with conservation-grade paper made from Japanese mulberry bark and water-soluble glue made of fish bones — and painstakingly put back together again. (Because of building details revealed by the degradation of artifacts, some very old birchbark canoes are simply stabilized to preserve all clues of their making rather than being restored.) The entire process is time-consuming and delicate, but an important part of maintaining canoe history.
The Enys canoe dates to the late 1700s and was partially restored before being returned to Canada from England in 2012.